Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Title: 13 Reason Why (Season 3)
Cast: Dylan Minnette, Justin Prentice, Grace Saif, Christian Navarro, Devin Druid, Brandon Flynn, Ross Butler, Alisha Boe, Timothy Granaderos, Anne Winters, Kate Walsh, Brenda Strong, Steven Weber. Derek Luke.
Produced by: Paramount
Review by: Wade Swift
Rating: 1.5 X's out of 5 X's
Season 3 of this polarizing series continues on it's exploration of real life struggles facing young teenage americans these days. Tackling serious issues such as Depression, Anxiety, Addiction, Abortion, Rape, Suicide, Toxic Masculinity and even Deportation. Let me preface by saying 13 Reasons Why at it's core serves as a platform to bring some insight to parents as to what their teenagers might actually be dealing with in silence, at the same time it promotes self awareness and unity within young adults, providing scenarios that might spark dialogue and education between those experiencing the issues, and close friends and family. One of the beauties of this show is that it gives anyone going through the struggles that come with teenage years and young adulthood, a blueprint for what to potentially say or do in these situations. From both a child and parents perspectives. This show is about looking out for each other. Taking care of ourselves and the ones around us, deploying self-awareness as well as awareness of the people around us.
However, somewhere along the way this show clearly lost sight of that, and season three much like season two sees the showrunners again opting to play more to the proverbial "shock value" than any actual educating or meaningful story building. This season also takes a dramatic shift in it's storytelling, from Hannah Bakers perspective in Season One, to Clay Jensens in Season Two, and now a more narrational format from Season threes new addition "Ani Achola". Ani is a self righteous and aggressively nosey transfer student, who, for whatever reason feels compelled to plunge her hands into the filth of Liberty High in search of answers, in search of the person who murdered Bryce Walker. Oh yeah, while you were away, someone murdered Bryce Walker. If you saw any of the promotional content for this season then you already knew that. The first episode begins with an unfamiliar voice speaking to you while Clay Jensen is being dragged away in handcuffs. The confusion you will undoubtedly feel during that scene, will most likely stay with you throughout the entirety of this season.
This show has become somewhat of a conundrum for me, I'm constantly torn between "it means well" and "this show doesn't care about anything but clickbait & scare tactics". Just when it appears to be harvesting a refreshingly new and informative topic where we might be given some sort of enlightenment or clarity on a subject matter or character, something completely over the top and unnecessary takes center stage. Now don't get me wrong, the extreme lengths this show will go and has gone to prove a point or send a stronger message than some of it's predecessors is one of the main things I loved about this show. Because the real world isn't censored. The real world doesn't sugar coat things. The real world is flagrant and brutal. But at the end of every obstacle life throws at us is always followed by a lesson or useful message. This show, more specifically this season have neither.
Season three is essentially a stripped down version of it's once promising self, and at times begins to feel almost like a parody of itself. Indulging more into cheap tricks like the tiresome "whodunnit" formula they deploy onto our main characters throughout the entirety of this season. With Ani and Clay often behaving more like CSI detectives than out of place 17 year old high school students. Most of which making little to no sense, like why her unrelentingly inquisitive behavior was never met with any type of resistance from a single one of her peers. One thing that will always win points with me however is the dark and ominous tone this show brings, coupled with the intensity of it's actors is really a breath of fresh air in a historically cheesy and cliche bubblegum genre. The combination of the two has proven to be effective when backed with formidable dialogue and a sound storyline, which this season inevitably fails to deliver on both fronts. Don't get me wrong, there are a few really powerful moments & conversations had, in particular with Tyler Down, Justin Foley and Jessica Davis. I truly believe this season could have benefitted greatly from focusing the spotlight more on those three and their individual recoveries & growth as characters. An expanding on the plethora of already established character arches and dilemmas. An important topic this season does address however is sexual assault in the male community with males being the victim, something that doesn't typically make it into popular culture. Again, lots of potential here.
Nevertheless, while I do believe the third go around to be the worst, it does display a good deal of growth and maturity from a few of it's characters and even introduces an interesting pair of new characters "Casey" (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and "Winston" (Deakon Bluman). The latter of which may be playing a more pivotal role in Season Four. But for me, the fact that this season's main objective can essentially be summarized as one big rape apology, you know considering it spends a majority of the time humanizing Bryce Walker in attempt to convince us that he's a nice guy who's made mistakes. That's right, the guy who's admittedly a serial rapist. To me, I can understand a show trying to lend perspective and present both sides of a situation but I can't help but feel like they took that a bit too far with Bryce. Only to then to kill him off, I just can't wrap my head around the thinking there. Nevertheless, if you're still a fan of this series this season has a fair amount of twists and turns but in the end fails to truly deliver on it's potential.
Overall, it gets off to a pretty scattered start and doesn't get much better as things unfold. By far the drearisest installment with a few poignant moments but a complete lack of continuity and cohesiveness. The writing itself takes a major step backwards, having more than it's fair share of "cringey" moments with the story itself becoming a mess of epic dysfunction. Just when the plot begins to ramp up and become exciting it all fizzles into nothing. But by far this seasons biggest misstep which should come as no surprise is it's new centerpiece, Ani. Not only is her existence in the school and her background as a character a pure mystery, so are her motives and intentions. Even when we finally become privy to the bigger picture between her and Bryce we're too entrenched into the season for it to garner any type of meaning or emotional reaction. Whether the writers did a poor job telling it or Grace Saif (Ani) did a poor job selling it. In any case randomly throwing her into the mix and expecting us to just be completely on board and invested with her and her decisions from day one, and have no questions is just beyond my comprehension. The beauty of this show is (or was) that it always shows you WHY the characters do what they do. In detail usually. Vivid detail. More importantly the decision to place the entire seasons narration into the hands of a completely unknown and random character was just too big a risk an unnecessary one at that, and ultimately proved to be too big of a hole for this season to dig itself out of. Ultimately another step in the wrong direction for this once promising Netflix original.